MBG Issue #199: Technicolor From Coast To Coast

Issue # 199

Technicolor From Coast To Coast

October 26, 2012

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Wade Guyton, U Sculpture (v. 6), 2007.  Mirrored stainless steel 24 x 22 x 53 ½ in. (61.5 x 55.9 x 136.1 cm). Artist proof, Edition of 3, 1 AP. Collection of the artist. ©Wade Guyton. Photograph by Ron Amstutz.

from the editor

The idea of fall is in the air. I say idea because from where I sit summer remains stubbornly locked in place. Two events thousands of miles away from one another made for some striking contrasts over the past few weeks of October. The first was the 2012 Creative Time Summit: Confronting Inequity, which took place at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts but was graciously livestreamed for those unable to attend. The presentations are currently available online and for this reason amongst many others, the summit is our Recommends for this issue. I won’t spoil the recommendation but will say how refreshing it was to hear artists, curators, theorists and activists engaged in an unflinching, complex and open conversation about the many difficult issues facing our world. Art is a powerful vehicle for this type of dialogue. On the other end of the spectrum, or perhaps on another spectrum all together, was the Texas Contemporary Art Fair held in Houston’s George R. Brown Convention Center. I’m always struck by how much art fairs manage to feel the same in every place. In a general sense once you’ve seen one, you’ve likely seen them all–plus or minus a few palm trees, piers, and familiar faces.

Thinking through the intersections and distinctions between regional, national and international art scenes through our coverage has been high on my list of priorities for ...might be good since I took the helm. Collaboration with writers and artists, established and up-and-coming, is at the heart of what we do here and this issue is no different. Our Long Read this issue comes from New York-based writer and curator Clara Halpern who approaches painter Amy Sillman’s recent collaborations with poets Lisa Robertson and Charles Bernstein. These projects expand notions of painting (the nearly 2000 images by Sillman that make up Pinky's Rule were created with her pinky on an iPhone), engage with poetry and humor, while maintaining the key concerns fundamental to Sillman’s practice. ‘Painting by other means’ is also the subtext of writer Brian Fee’s review of Wade Guyton OS at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. Guyton hands over mark-making to software and an Epson 9600 printer in-order to create work that underscores and problematizes the relationship between image-making technology and the human pushing its buttons. On the West Coast The Torrance Museum of Artis currently host to XYZ: The Geometric Impulse in Abstract Art curated by artists Jessica Halonen and Emily Joyce. Los Angeles resident, artist, writer and ...mbg Production Associate Emily Ng writes thoughtfully about the ins and outs of the exhibition and what it says about artists who are grappling with abstraction today.

The technical facets of making an image for the movie screen is the jumping off point for artist Lucy Raven’s current project at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. Writer Catherine Wagley tackles Raven’s exhibition and her interest in the things that are going on behind the scenes, finding engaging and relevant correlations to the work of Gordon Matta-Clark, Hans Haacke, and Michael Asher. Collecting, archiving and recontextualizing objects through their transformation into sculpture and an exhibition is at the core of Austin and New York-based artist Andy Coolquitt’s Attainable Excellencecurrently on view at AMOA-Arthouse. Writer and artist Jessica Mathews lends her thoughts on Coolquitt’s exhibition which will make its way to Houston’s recently renovated Blaffer Art Museum next May.

As you’re thinking about abstraction, collecting or what movie to watch this weekend drop us a line at: askus@fluentcollab.org and let us know your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you! Stay tuned for our 200th issue coming up in two-weeks!

Eric Zimmerman is an artist and Editor of ...might be good.


Andy Coolquitt: Attainable Excellence
AMOA-Arthouse, Austin
Through December 30

By Jessica Mathews

Installation image of andy coolquitt: attainable excellence at AMOA-Arthouse, the Jones Center, September 28–December 30, 2012. Courtesy of the artist and Lisa Cooley. Photo by Ben Aqua.

"Bonnie I love (can) you can I see you Sat or Sun Love Jim.”

This is the message that greets you upon entering Andy Coolquitt’s Attainable Excellence, on display at AMOA-Arthouse, as long as you’re in the habit of looking down when you walk. The flattened piece of cardboard, its message scribbled in Sharpie, sits casually on the floor, spotlighted by an old desk lamp.

bonnie I LovE (can) You cAn I sEE yOu saT oR SuN LovE jiM sets up the space of the gallery. The installation is simultaneously casual and daring. Everywhere you look, and also where you don’t, a piece is propped against a wall, hovering in midair, or sitting out on the floor. Tread carefully and watch your step.

Along the edge of the gallery a narrow aisle forces close contact with a row of Coolquitt’s more linear sculptures. In one direction you observe a rhythm of materials and textures united by their minimal form and protruding light bulbs. The viewer is denied the comfort of passive observation and placed into a more intrusive role. In turn, the whole gallery is activated, leaving the viewer sensitive to every detail both within and outside of the artwork.

Coolquitt’s work references private spaces that exist in the public sphere. While wandering through the gallery a human presence outside of your own is slowly constructed. There is an overall domestic atmosphere, a makeshift home. A Nice Place for Meeting People, a powder blue cushion removed from the context of a couch, is nailed to the wall. It hangs lower than traditional eye-level, causing it to seem somewhat out of place–its function is displaced while remaining inviting.

Everyday objects are presented as testaments to human encounters, forever transformed into something that once belonged to somebody. “Sombodymades,” a play off of the readymade, is the name Coolquitt gives these abandoned possessions. More than an otherwise functional object, these artworks bear human trace. In Crackcident a bundle of plastic lighters are fused together, a melted treasure you might stumble across on an ordinary walk through any city. It is displayed in a Plexiglass cased podium, setting it apart from the exposed arrangements of objects that sit out on the floor.

Memphis (Italian not Elvis) is a floor installation of discarded possessions: a painted square of plexi-glass, a crocheted yarn creature, porcelain hands in prayer, and a beer can in a paper bag, all set up almost as a sort of shrine. The intentional arrangement elevates the objects from garbage, despite their tattered appearance. A notepad listing, “primitive, voodoo, survivalist, crackhead…” gives indications of its former existence. However all that is provided are clues, no story is built around the arrangement of possessions. The viewer, similarly to Coolquitt, has merely stumbled across something that once belonged to somebody else and is given the option to either ignore it or re-contextualize its meaning.

Coolquitt straddles the role of curator and creator, accumulating objects that share similarities and slightly altering them, creating what he calls “in-between-objects.” A collection of manufactured hand figurines, not initially a set, was brought together through skillful rummaging and further unified with broken fingers. Objects that have been filtered through the hands of their owner are further filtered through the hands of the artist.

Navigating Andy Coolquitt’s Attainable Excellence is reminiscent to stumbling upon a temporary home in an unexpected public space. The works exhibit a delicate balance between the eclectic materials they are composed of and the intelligent minimal forms they model. However, within the sleek design remains an energy other than the artist’s or viewer’s, its the remnants of an energy belonging to a former owner–the somebody of the “sombodymade.”

Jessica Mathews is an artist and writer located in East Austin. 

Focus Please: Lucy Raven’s RP31 
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
Through January 20, 2013

By Catherine Wagley

Lucy Raven, RP31, 2012, Randomized digital projection transferred from scans of 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, 70mm film, and digital cinema files, including captured formats in standard spherical 35mm, anamorphic 35mm, Super-35mm, and VistaVision, and stereoscopic processes in Marks 3Depix, Space-Vision, and StereoVision, and from the Fastax rotating prism system, with audio samples from optical and magnetic soundtrack test material, Indefinite duration. Courtesy of the artist.

From October 22-25, the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) convene in Hollywood. Like in years past, Loew’s Hollywood Hotel is hosting the 2012 Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition. This means presenters will talk about “optical distribution costs,” “lens metadata,” “ultra high-definition imagery,” “advances in 3-D” and “color management” blocks north of the Hollywood-Highland intersection where street performers white-faced like vampires from Twilight or blue-faced like characters from Avatar congregate and the former Kodak Theater (now called the Dolby) where Oscar contenders walk the red carpet. The people who know almost everything about how images technically work will be arms-length from all the weirdness, panache and sleekness of the “Hollywood image.”

Artist Lucy Raven’s new work makes the typically unseen, seemingly dry products of the SMPTE seeable. She mentions the society in an interview in BOMB Magazine published last month, particularly the society’s RP40 “test charts” for calibrating projectors. “I became interested in the history of these patterns as images that you’re not meant to see but which are aimed at making you see better,” she says. She has been collecting test charts, seeking out projectionists and archives who might have them, splicing them together in different ways and projecting them. Raven calls the films she’s made using these charts RPx; “RP” stands for “recommended practice” like it does for the SMPTE, but “x” stands for the number of test charts Raven has incorporated. The film currently looping in the Hammer Museum’s third-floor video gallery is called RP31 because it includes 31 charts.

Looping in 35 mm on an old-fashioned projector that whirs seductively, the film lasts just shy of five minutes. With the exception of charts like the one that says “TECHNICOLOR: PLEASE FOCUS” in text that glows yellow, and a reel of yellow, red and green angled above the lettering, most frames are black and white and entirely symmetrical. This means, as they cycle through, your eye inevitably goes to the center of the screen.

If you know Raven’s work and writing, you know she’s interested in infrastructure and what’s behind the scenes. Her film China Town follows ore from a copper mine in Nevada to a Chinese smelter by stringing together thousands of still images. Her 2011 essay for the journal October told the story of the two one-eyed directors (Raul Walsh and André de Toth both lost an eye under tragic circumstances) who would pioneer 3-D film in the 1950s even though neither would be able to see the full effects of their 3-D projects. She ends this essay by pointing out that a missing eye wouldn’t be anywhere near as notable a handicap now that dual camera and dual projector systems have been replaced by careful digital manipulation and “high- powered projectors that are able to offset ‘right’ - and ‘left’- eye images with a single shutter and beam.” She ends by saying, “The second eye has become just another digital effect,” suggesting that 3-D viewing is now a carefully controlled, streamlined process that expedites sameness.

Work that exposes the infrastructure of information feels intensely relevant at the moment. It’s our equivalent to Gordon Matta-Clark removing the exterior of a condemned house and buying land deemed un-developable by powers-that-be for his Fake Estates project. Or it’s our equivalent to Hans Haacke’s “Systems” work, where he exposed the museum’s business interests, or Michael Asher removing gallery doors to force a museum to stay open 24/7. But Matta-Clark, Haacke and Asher’s work made a clear connection between the systems it was exposing and the façade or product those systems facilitated. Haacke’s breakdowns of museum structures have hung in museums, alongside other art. You had to go through Asher’s always-open doors to get to the exhibition you’d come to see.

This is where Raven’s RP31 falls short. The ideas fascinate: these never-meant-to-be-seen charts now “exposed” to us. But because the images have a minimal, structural look and because they cycle through without making any clear visual reference to why they exist and what they’re supposed to do, RP31 feels like a paean to abstract, structuralist film of eras past. This may be entirely intentional on Raven’s part. Still, as a viewer, I am frustrated by this level of abstraction, largely because I know just enough to know that these images are made to gauge or manipulate how I see to feel I’m being manipulated by them once again, asked to revel in their precision and composition.

I remember seeing Kurt Ralske’s Avatar in 1-D at Young Projects in L.A. a year ago. It boiled James Cameron’s 3-D blockbuster Avatar down to one pixel and still managed to feel engulfing. Working to match the dramatically reduced haze of what was on the screen with the soundtrack made me feel more part of the viewing experience than seeing it in a theater had. Ralske’s project isn’t Raven’s and I don’t have crystal-clear recommendations for how to be an artist-archivist, as Raven more or less is, and still provide viewers with resonant new ways of experiencing culture. It must be possible, though.

Catherine Wagley regularly contributes to the LA Weekly and is a columnist for the Art21 Blog and Dailyserving.com.

XYZ: The Geometric Impulse in Abstract Art
The Torrance Art Museum
Through November 3

By Emily Ng

"XYZ: The Geometric Impulse in Abstract Art," left to right: Dennis Koch, Hadley Holliday, Krysten Cunningham, Brad Tucker, Jessica Halonen. Photograph by Jennie Warren.

Geometry is a branch of mathematics concerned with questions of shape, size, relative position of figures, and the properties of space.

Tucked away in the small city of Torrance, CA is the Torrance Art Museum which is currently host to XYZ: The Geometric Impulse in Abstract Art, a group exhibition organized by Jessica Halonen and Emily Joyce featuring artists from various locations. The title of the exhibition is a straightforward translation of the major theme of the show, provoking thoughts of just how much geometry tends to find itself within abstract art. Based on the fact that you can find mathematics at the core of any component of nature, you could argue that all abstract art has some basis of geometry.

These questions bring forth a larger meditation on the mathematical tendencies in visual decision-making. Everyone has experienced rearranging a room or hanging a picture frame without a measuring tape or a level–feeling that objects were simply out of place. Visual relationships between an object and space turn into subconscious cognitive calculations that translate into an emotional perception of equilibrium. In many ways, this is how the decision-making process works: the rational part of your brain works in collusion with the emotional part in-order to give you gut feelings and intuition. There is a certain inexplicable tendency towards clean lines and predictable shapes, some individuals drawn to that aesthetic more than others, which the exhibition does a fine job of indulging in.

Abstract art uses a visual language of form, color and line to create a composition which may exist with a degree of independence from visual references in the world; Artistic works that don't attempt to represent reality or concrete subjects.

An abstract object is an object which does not exist at any particular time or place, but rather exists as a type of thing.

Brad Tucker’s playful abstractions of seemingly random objects: Kidney, Canal, Peanut, pares down visual information to the bare minimum needed to communicate an idea. Shapes constructed in wood and fabric with rounded corners and a palette of varying shades of blue challenge traditional abstract painting. They have an innocence to them that is reminiscent of the simple interpretations of everyday objects that would be used to, for example, teach a child language. A square with a triangle on top represents a house. Two dots and an arched line represent happiness. These simple symbols are priceless tools of communication, from ancient hieroglyphics to the development of character-based writing systems. Emily Joyce’s takes on the duality of the representational in addition to the physical in Sun Burn (Burned) 2, in which she creates a large graphic screenprint of a sunburst, then physically burns a hole in the center. The piece is gestural, performative, and humorously literal.

But an abstraction does not have to represent anything—it has the ability to exist in and of itself. Dennis Koch’s untitled color pencil drawing vibrates with bold colors marked obsessively in a concentric symmetrical pattern. In SBW #1 Linda Besemer creates moire patterns with acrylics, vivid bands of colors streaking in and out of them. Both of these pieces focus on the process of mark-making and, through repetition, its ability to create something visually engaging. In Jessica Mallios’ case, a representation of something can be so ambiguous that it recedes back into the realm of abstraction. A video loop of what at first could almost be a still image, Rhombus, takes away your vantage points, leaving you ungrounded from what you are looking at visually and how you are looking at it temporally. The rhombus’ skewed and eerie shape is reminiscent of James Turrell’s Skylight, compressing space into two dimensionality, yet the movement in the video piece is undefined, suggesting a fallacy while grasping for that one moment of explanation that would allow you to register a concrete truth.

The exhibition’s exploration of geometry in the abstract, however verdant and fresh, felt somewhat cursory. Abstract art has a long and distinct history, and focus on the evolution of it into the contemporary may have been more textured with the inclusion of less traditional approaches to the idea of abstraction, although the possible interpretations of such a multifaceted topic is quite endless, and the task to dissect it insurmountably arduous. Art history, graph paper, protractors, and X-Y-Z coordinates aside, this exhibition is a solid sampling of contemporary artists with shared sensibilities making interesting work. In this way, XYZ also provides commentary on the constantly shifting approaches to art-making and how this generation of artists will continue to break through preceding categories in order to define their own.

Definitions sourced from www.wikipedia.org

Emily Ng is an artist and Production Associate at Fluent~Collaborative.

Wade Guyton OS
Whitney Museum of American Art
Through January 13, 2013

By Brian Fee

Wade GuytonUntitled, 2012. Epson UltraChrome inkjet on linen; six panels 198 x 69 in. (502.9 x 175.3 cm) each; 198 x 429 in. (502.9 x 1089.7 cm) overall. Carlos and Rosa de la Cruz Collection. Photograph by Brian Forrest.

I do the majority of my writing from my Mac, and I find myself constantly hitting F3 to “expose all windows,” moving from an unfinished text to an open browser window and so on. Often I tug windows out of the way, searching blindly for whatever source of inspiration I require. This sort of information overload and decluttering is reality, particularly for those who spend countless hours in front of a computer. The Whitney Museum's dynamic wall installation for Wade Guyton OS, like a flotilla of onscreen windows, emulates this technological blitz pixel-perfectly.

Guyton has worked with software interventions and hardware mishaps for over a decade, tapping out X's and U's in Microsoft Word and sending magazine pages or primed linen through massive inkjet printers. Echoed by a 2008 untitled canvas octet printed with thick, fluctuating stripes rippling across one wall, and reflected in the extruded, stainless steel U's lined up in front of them, Guyton underscores the halting interaction between the machine's image-making power and man.

Wade Guyton OS focuses primarily on later works, produced within the parameters of an Epson 9600 (capable of printing at 44-inches width and practically limitless length) and a rubric of symbols and scanned imagery. The staggered walls facing the elevators unveil a non-chronological network of Guyton's process-driven experimentation: multicolored U's floating like Space Invaders over scanned flames; the eight banded panels oscillating between visual coherence and dissolution; a wall-spanning swath of striped red and green framing the Whitney's back window like halftone Christmas curtains.

Guyton worked closely with curator Scott Rothkopf in mapping out this installation within the institution's unique space, with the intention of it feeling like it had been designed for the building1. Guyton's interest in modernist structures originated in his formative days spent drawing over architecture magazine pages with a Sharpie, like in Drawing for Sculpture the Size of a House. Ultimately, due to his self-professed compositional limitations, he turned mark-making over to his computer. 2

My first brush with Guyton’s work was in 2007 at Friedrich Petzel Gallery, an exhibition of “ostensibly black monochromes.” 3 A series of his customary large X's on linen printed blurry, and Guyton circumvented this setback by overprinting them with a black field he'd created in Photoshop. Writing about that show, Rothkopf noted “as each painting might invoke Reinhardt or Marden, it also gestures to those artists—from Marcel Broodthaers, Piero Manzoni, and Blinky Palermo to Sherrie Levine, Rudolf Stingel, and Richard Prince—who in their own ways challenged the primacy and sanctity of modernism's most enduring signpost.” 4 Seeing them again in the Whitney, I understand them equally for their differences—sticky black impenetrability, faint pinstripes where the print heads clogged with ink—and for Guyton's irreverent use of the monochrome as a readymade by “simply” pressing print.

Still, Guyton's struggle of pulling these “ostensibly black monochromes” through his printer is recorded in their surface scuffs and abrasions. These and later works, where he interrupted the printing process to leaving ink traces, are neither static nor coldly removed from human intervention. Like Piero Manzoni's Achromes that degrade naturally; to Jackson Pollock, moving the artist's gesture a meter or more above the canvas' surface; to Gerhard Richter's combination of chromatic ingenuity and pure chance when his squeegee scrapes the wet surface; Guyton retains his hand in this unconventional painterly process. He joins a lineage of artists whose experimentation has broadened our understanding of how a painting can be made, and, considering our own experiences with aberrant printers, Guyton's technological tussling and beautiful results resonates particularly close to home.

Brian Fee is an art punk currently based in Austin, TX. His culture blog Fee's List covers his three loves (art, film and live music) occurring in his other three loves (the Lone Star State, the Big Apple, and Tokyo).


1. Carol Vogel, “Painting, Rebooted,” The New York Times, September 27, 2012: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/30/arts/design/wade-guytons-computer-made-works-at-the-whitney.html?ref=design

2. Wade Guyton interview with Donna De Salvo, in Scott Rothkopf, ed., Wade Guyton OS (New Haven, London: Yale University Press, 2012), 197-210.

3. Friedrich Petzel Gallery, Wade Guyton press release, November 13, 2007: http://www.petzel.com/exhibitions/2007-11-13_wade-guyton/

4. Scott Rothkopf, “The New Black”, Parkett 83 (October 2008): 74-81.

long read

Painting By Other Means: Amy Sillman's Recent Video Works

By Clara Halpern

Pinky's Rule (7 min.) Video, 2011, Drawings by Amy Sillman, Text by Charles Bernstein.

Amy Sillman is interested in “experiments that exist between language and image which contain polarities of time and space and humor and vulgarity and high mindedness and low mindedness,” experiments that express relations and change relations of making.1 Sillman’s recent video works Pinky’s Rule (2011), an animated collaboration with poet Charles Bernstein and Draft of a Voice-Over for Split-Screen Video Loop (2012) with poet Lisa Robertson contain all of these elements. Premiering at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York, and then distributed online through a YouTube clip on BOMB Magazine, Pinky’s Rule is an animated drawing, comprised of more than 2000 images, created by Sillman on her iPhone (using her pinky finger), in collaboration with Bernstein as he wrote the poem.2 Pinky’s Rule reflects Sillman’s painting process formally, through the accumulation of mark-making and emphasis on color. In addition to this formal resonance, Pinky’s Rule enacts a form of ‘painting by other means,’ and draws into focus the oscillation between figuration and abstraction, engagement with poetry, and the diagrammatic and humor that is fundamental to Sillman’s painting practice.

‘It always starts fast then begins unwinding’ 3

Sillman’s paintings have a characteristic of doing and undoing. Critic David Rhodes has noted that there is a performative aspect to making which is integral to the way that Sillman’s works function in terms of layering, covering and revealing.4 This performative aspect is present in Sillman’s paintings, but is heightened in both videos through the marks that show the traces of her fingers dragging across the screen, transitions and layering, simultaneously making and becoming the image.

Sillman is one of a number of painters experimenting with the iPhone as a painting tool. David Hockney has had several exhibitions of work done on iPhones and iPads. Hockney’s iPad drawings have also been shown as videos that reveal each addition and subtraction of marks. By revealing these layers, the animations of his drawings fulfill a yearning to be a voyeur of his process of pushing paint and, through this other medium, give a feeling of insight to his painting process. Sillman’s videos go beyond the recording of Hockney’s process, as her action becomes folded into the work itself, engaging with the poem, rather than remaining as documentation.5

Katy Siegel has described what she terms the ‘Luxury of Incommensurability.’ This luxury lies in the possibility of holding two thoughts in mind simultaneously, allowing for both abstraction and materiality at the same time as representation.6 Sillman’s abstract passages are interspersed with more figurative images. These passages develop a temporal rather than spatial relationship to the ones that precede and follow them while allowing for representational images to emerge. This relationship between images occurs through an accumulation and subtraction of color and line, layer over layer. In Sillman’s work based on Lisa Robertson’s poem the two frames provide a split moment. On one side an image relates to the line just read and on the other the formation of an image based on the line being read at that moment. Layers of lines undergird the more representational images, while providing an abstract response to the poem itself.

'She wants to tell about it but not necessarily in language.' 7

As Mara Hoberman writes for Artforum “Marrying two of her preferred subjects—language and sexuality—Sillman’s animation illustrates the complexities of expressing (or denying) femininity when language itself is a gendered construct.”8 A line in Robertson’s poem states “She exploited a splitting at the level of process.”9 Sillman realizes Robertson’s title by translating the poem into a split screen video loop with a voice-over of the poem. Robertson writes, and Sillman reads: “She says space is doubt” the screen split, the process split, and through these layers of splitting a space is opened. This split allows a space where the complexities of the gendered constructs of language can be addressed through image rather then simply admonished–engaging the possibility for something else to be said, differently.

‘The picture can say only what the words tell it not tooAs in the pope is in the siloWhile the poetry boy re-doubles his and her effortlessness’ 10

The relationship between the picture and the words in Pinky’s Rule is a conversation rather than illustration. The work was produced through an exchange, and the animation reflects this back-and-forth that is at once diagrammatic and obtuse. The images do not illustrate the words, rather the poems speak from the images and the images reply in turn.11 Bernstein uses the term ‘ekphrasis’ to describe the project, an apt description of how it functions, poetry and painting leak in to one another describing simultaneously the essence of what the other depicts. In Draft of a Voice-Over for Split-Screen Video Loop, Lisa Robertson’s poem from 2009 precedes the video, but a similar push and pull is generated. The image is not at the service of the word, instead both are in conversation, shifting one another.

These engagements with Bernstein and Robertson are part of a larger exchange with poetry in Sillman’s work. In a transcript of a conversation with Greg Bordowitz, Sillman described poetry “as that which exceeds what is merely necessary, but is still crucial.”12 She aligns it with love, play, sex, desire, invention and imagination, ideas that are embarrassing to talk about but are necessary, arguing that the shame or discomfort around them is also essential.

Sillman’s “couples project” is a series that developed from drawings of couples from life, many of her close friends. After initial drawings of couples together in their homes snuggling or intertwined, Sillman does another drawing from memory, and continues to produce more drawings one after the other, which gradually becoming more abstract.13 Curator Anne Ellegood writes in Third Person Singular, that Sillman’s work proposes a structure, an idiosyncratic semiotic system, that involves a fragmentation and reassembly of the subjects of these paintings.14 She writes, “We might call Sillman the inventor of a failed language, or perhaps a linguist whose language of expertise keeps changing or growing.”15 In both videos Sillman performs a similar operation, building and fragmenting images while simultaneously undertaking an exchange with poetry that also exceeds it.

‘The pictures can tell only what the words hide, and the words are hiding for their lives in a witness protection program on pony drive.’ 16

David Joselit has argued for a category of painting that he terms ‘transitive’, which he says is exemplified by an attention to the behavior of objects within networks, and the passage or translation of objects into new contexts.17 Joselit writes about Jutta Koether’s work as one example of transitive painting:

'What defines transitive painting, of which Koether represents only one “mood,” is its capacity to hold in suspension the passages internal to a canvas, and those external to it. In this regard, painting since the 1990s has folded into itself so-called “institutional critique” without falling into the modernist trap of negation, where works on canvas are repeatedly reduced to degree zero while remaining unique objects of contemplation and market speculation.'18

Joselit argues that transitive practices offer a way out of what he calls an “enduring critical dead end: the reification trap,” He notes that paying an artist a fee for services such as a lecture, performance or temporary installation also requires the same commodification. He separates out the reification of painting because he says the object ceases to circulate in a network. He writes: “The problem with the term ‘reification’ is that it connotes the permanent arrest of an object’s circulation within a network: it is halted, paid for, put on a wall, or sent to storage, therefore permanently crystallizing a particular social relation.”19 The practices that Joselit discusses are invested in discourses surrounding circulation, but they themselves don’t sit outside of this system. Joselit refers to Sillman’s work at the end of his text, not as transitive painting but rather as contemporary painting that is complementary to transitive – ‘the diagrammatic.’20 Sillman has expressed her interest in the diagrammatic as it relates to her practice, describing a diagram unfurling as a spiderweb, that you make as you go along. A diagram “which is based on a framework but which is not necessarily a knowledge based epistemological framework, it’s a form which is situated at the hinge between your body and your mind.”21 Pinky’s Rule unfurls in a reciprocal way, and Sillman’s marks could be interpreted as an evolving diagram in relation to the words in the poem, while the words attempt to describe what the drawings depict.

In an interview with Gregg Bordowitz, Sillman touched on the discourses around painting:

AS: No, it’s like a painting has to have an alibi.GB: Does a model of conceptual painting dominate now?AS: I don’t even think conceptual painting exists… It’s a ridiculous non-category. All painting is conceptual and is also partly driven by desire. GB: In order for painting to be appreciated it has to have a conceptual apparatus…AS: It has to have an excuse. A kind of validating intellectual structure to allow for something. 22

Sillman has a thoughtful approach to circulation, as evidenced by the extension of her practice into collaborative works and other forms such as ‘zines and the poster “Some Problems in Philosophy.” Sillman’s project at the now closed Orchard, Representation, sought to create a collective portrait of Orchard’s members and community.23 There are a set of expectations that are often difficult for painting to shake off. Sillman’s work in other mediums provides a shift, almost to paint by other means. 24

In a series of assignments by artists facilitated by the Getty, Sillman encourages the students to take a color walk, noting how color functions on a walk through their town before thinking about color in artwork in the museum. Sillman’s nuanced use of color is visible throughout her videos. In Pinky’s Rule, colors flash across the screen highlighted by Bernstein’s words, “The sparrow she sings it differently, orange and green and all the colors in between, white’s blue reply, red’s recalcitrant lover, aquamarine and tin, torn covers.” Sillman’s voice reads out the names of the colors as they come over the screen, and the combination of Bernstein’s words and Sillman’s choice of hues takes advantage of the animated format, generating a synesthetic effect.

Sillman recognizes the circulation of her work, but emphasizes the need to really talk about an object:

'I’d like to really, really talk about a painting’s, or art object’s qualities. This is an underdeveloped muscle in the critical apparatus. I think we should be looking at objects formally, while understanding that, of course, content is part of form and form is part of content, and see how objects are working with content and abstraction now and what they are really doing. I wish there was less embarrassment, less tension around a kind of formal and poetic response, where you describe something in terms of feeling or association, or you look at how something plays, rather then just how it signifies, or how it deals with the literary, marketplace or distribution systems that lie around it. Some critical language around art may fall short, and need to be refreshed, or be dropped.' 25

Although the manner that a work like Pinky’s Rule circulates on the internet is distinct from the circulation of a painting on canvas, it would be unfortunate to focus on that or on its avoidance of the reification of painting. To discuss it in these limited terms would be missing what this avoidance of the ‘reification trap’ supposedly affords in favor of another easy statement. Instead we should be attentive to color in Sillman’s video works, and the formal qualities of the tactile and the digital strokes. The two-way translation of the poem into image and images into words. Or how painting changes when it is made of light rather than light from outside. The transition that Sillman’s work takes in a project like couples, from figuration to abstraction, can happen over time in the frame of the phone. These video works are painting by other means, bringing together aspects of Sillman’s practice, such as color, mark making, and processes of layering and scraping away that are connected to painting. Like a spider web that weaves between Bernstein’s words and Sillman’s drawings, across abstraction and representation, through the ‘o’ of poetry, and hinging on humor, Sillman’s recent video works illuminate and expand ways of making.

Clara Halpern is a curator based in New York.


1 Amy Sillman, 'All A Are Not B' by Susanne Leeb with David Joselit, Prudence Peiffer and Amy Sillman, Triple Canopy, n.d., http://canopycanopycanopy.com/podcasts.
2 Raphael Rubinstein, “2011’s Top Ten in Painting,” Art in America, December 27, 2011, http://www.artinamericamagazine.com/news-opinion/finer-things/2011-12-27/top-ten-in-painting-2011/.
3 Amy Sillman and Charles Bernstein, Pinky’s Rule, Animated drawing, 2011, http://bombsite.com/articles/6343.
4 David Rhodes, “AMY SILLMAN Thumb Cinema,” The Brooklyn Rail, 2011, http://www.brooklynrail.org/2011/12/artseen/amy-sillman-thumb-cinema.
5 A selection of these images have been made in to an edition of prints.
6 Katy Siegel, “Frieze Talks: The Luxury of Incommensurability”, October 13, 2011, http://www.friezefoundation.org/talks/detail/the-luxury-of-incommensurability/.
7 Lisa Robertson, Draft of a Voice-Over for Split-Screen Video Loop, 2009.
8 Artforum critic’s pick: Amy Sillman and Lisa Robertson, in Paris - Mara Hoberman
9 Lisa Robertson, Draft of a Voice-Over for Split-Screen Video Loop, 2009.
10 Sillman and Bernstein, Pinky’s Rule.
11 Charles Bernstein, “Amy Sillman & Charles Bernstein, Duplexities,” Jacket2, October 13, 2011, http://jacket2.org/commentary/amy-sillman-charles-bernstein-duplexities.
12 Amy Sillman and Gregg Bordowitz, Amy Sillman ; Gregg Bordowitz, Between Artists (S.l.: A.R.T. Press, 2007), 7.
13 Anne Ellegood, “Third Person Singular,” in Amy Sillman: Third Person Singular, Opener 15 (Saratoga Springs, N.Y: Frances Young Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery at Skidmore College, 2008), 56.
14 Ibid., 55.
15 Ibid., 56.
16 Sillman and Bernstein, Pinky’s Rule.
17 David Joselit, “Painting Beside Itself,” October, no. 130 (Fall 2009): 128.
18 Ibid., 129.
19 Ibid., 132.
20 Joselit, “Painting Beside Itself.”
21 Sillman, All A Are Not B, by Susanne Leeb with David Joselit, Prudence Peiffer and Amy Sillman.
22 Sillman and Bordowitz, Amy Sillman ; Gregg Bordowitz, 15.
23 “From One O to the Other: Rhea Anastas, R.H. Quaytman, Amy Sillman,” Gallery website, Orchard, n.d., http://orchard47.org/testshow.php name=From%20One%20O%20to%20the%20Other.
24 In the article ‘Provisional Painting,’ Raphael Rubenstein referred to Mary Heilmann’s paintings as an approach to “painting as ceramics by other means.” He notes “treating painting as if it were ceramics, that is, as a medium free of weighty cultural expectations, is key to Heilmann’s art.” Raphael Rubinstein, “Provisional Painting,” Art in America 97, no. 5 (May 2009): 122–135.
25 Sillman and Bordowitz, Amy Sillman ; Gregg Bordowitz, 16.

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Creative Time Summit: Confronting Inequity

Two-weeks ago at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York, Creative Time held their annual summit. For those of us unable to be there in person the entire slate of presentations were livestreamed and are now available for viewing online. Martha Rosler, Slavoj Žižek, A.L. Steiner, Laura Poitras, Steve Lambert, and the Otolith Group are just a handful of names from the impressive list of talks. The dichotomy between art that concerns itself with politics and that which focuses on formal issues seems as strong as ever. Arguments on both sides of the divide pop-up incessantly. Yet that division strikes me as increasingly odd, if not entirely dull and oversimplified. Art might not be able to change the world, but it is a powerful way to begin thinking about the social, economic and political frameworks that structure our lives. Aesthetics have a role to play in thinking through these issues both as a valid form for working and a potential strategy for critique. Common ground is found easily once one lets go of personal proclivities and well-trodden divisions. As I watched the livestream from my desk in Houston I was mesmerized by Žižek and nearly brought to tears by the Otolith Group. Powerful stuff. I was also forced to think critically about my current city and state of residence and the conversations in motion here. Could Texas host and support an event like this? While this is a topic for another time, it is also gets to the real heart of Creative Time’s Summit. The specific presentations and themes are certainly key, but the Summit’s unflinching look at difficult issues and complex ideas in a welcoming and humorous way makes even those thousands of miles away feel like part of a larger community and conversation in a striking way. Now that is powerful stuff.

Added on 2012-10-24 12:27:47

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